According to a new study, one of the downsides of being creative is the alleged associated link with mental illness. The findings published in Nature Neuroscience claim that creativity and psychiatric disorders might have common genetic causes.
The new research suggests that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are linked with creativity through a set of genes. The association involves how the genes increasing the risk of developing the psychological disorders can also be used to forecast the level of creativity of an individual.
Genetic data of 86,000 Icelanders were studied. The researchers found that specific combinations of gene variations could help predict the risk of psychosis. When combined, the genes were found to increase the average risk of schizophrenia by two times and the risk for bipolar disorder by a third.
These gene variants were also found to be common among “creative individuals” who were defined as those indulging in activities such as dance, writing, and acting: a 17 % increase of the variants was noted in this group of people when compared to people not falling into this category.
Furthermore, when more than 35,000 people from the Netherlands and Sweden were included in the study, and those considered to be “creative” sampled, the latter were found to be 25 % more at risk to have the gene variants.
“By knowing which healthy behaviours, such as creativity, share their biology with psychiatric illnesses we gain a better understanding of the thought processes that lead a person to become ill and how the brain might be going wrong,” said Robert Power, one of the authors of the study. “Our findings suggest that creative people may have a genetic predisposition towards thinking differently.”
The results have met some opposition though. Opponents retort that even if the link does exist, it is too negligible to be considered.
For instance, the data gathered by the researchers is considered to be weak since the variants analysed only accounted for around 6 % of schizophrenia cases only, and just 1 % of bipolar disorders. A geneticist not involved in the study, David Cutler, explained:
“If artistic ability is a mile-long road where someone with high creativity stands at one end and someone with low creativity stands at the other, these genetic variations will only collectively explain about four meters (13 feet) of the distance. So not much at all, but not nothing either.”